Homelessness rises 12 per cent in the Hunter across 2011-16, according to census

Three years ago, Cameron Blundell owned a successful jumping-castle business.

On a good, he says, he could earn about $2000 a day. 

Now he’s homeless.

On Thursday, he didn’t know where he was going to spend the night and was searching for a place to stay. 

“My head was spinning to the point of having massive anxiety attacks” he said. 

“The stress was getting to the point where I was going to have a breakdown.”

Mr Blundell’s situation is one faced by a growing number of people across the Hunter.

Homelessness in the region grew by 12 per cent from 2011-2016, with 1747 sleeping rough during the last census. 

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released its homelessness estimates this week, derived from the 2016 Census of Population and Housing.

PLACE TO STAY: Macquarie Care's Megan Melksham, left, and Abby Mills with Cameron Blundell in the Our Backyard kitchen. Picture: Simone De Peak

PLACE TO STAY: Macquarie Care's Megan Melksham, left, and Abby Mills with Cameron Blundell in the Our Backyard kitchen. Picture: Simone De Peak

They show an increase across the country, revealing 50 people in every 10000 are now homeless. 

There were 116,427 people in Australia classified as homeless, and the homelessness rate grew by 27 per cent in NSW from 2011 to 2016. 

The Hunter’s 1747 homeless lifted from 1559 in 2011, including 797 in Newcastle – up from 652 in 2011. 

Lake Macquarie remained steady, recording a slight decrease from 411 in 2011, to 403 in 2016.

The ABS homeless classifications include people staying in: boarding houses; temporary lodging; supported accommodation; improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out, or living temporarily in other households or in 'severely' crowded dwellings.

Mr Blundell, 46, found the Our Backyard homeless program run in Lake Macquarie. 

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“If I didn’t find these guys, I don’t know where I’d be at,” he said on Thursday evening. 

They offer “crisis” accommodation to anyone sleeping rough in a car – a place for people to park their vehicle on a secure property with showers and kitchen facilities. 

“It’s just been a big weight taken off my shoulders,” Mr Blundell said. “To how I felt three hours ago to how I feel now, it’s totally different.”

Trying to get back on his feet, Mr Blundell says finding a place to stay is vital to maintain mental well-being. 

“It just means such a difference; from having nothing to having somebody that cares. I was feeling like I’d dug that hole so deep, I wasn’t going to get out of it this time. This place gave me that little step up to get out of that hole. 

“I would be on the side of the road tonight and it’s not nice waiting for that knock from the police. When you’re on the side of the road, you’re never safe.” 

His thoughts were shared by Rebecca Bosworth, 31. 

“It’s hard,” she said of living out of her car.

“Having your car broken into and things stolen from you. A place like this is really important.

“There’s nothing else out there like it.”

Compass Housing Services, a not-for-profit organisation who provide a range of housing options, are pushing for a national housing plan.  

“There are many reasons why people are homeless, not just a lack of houses,” Compass knowledge manager Professor David Adamson said.

“This means we need a plan using a combination of evidence based strategies.”